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How Some Washington High Schools Provide Extra Attention For Freshmen

Ellen M. Banner
The Seattle Times
Incoming freshmen and families attend a welcome night Thursday at West Seattle High. Classes start Wednesday. The school, with nearly $1.4 million from the city, is adding support to prevent freshmen from failing even one course.

Students are heading back to class and some are facing the daunting task of dealing with a new school and new expectations.

High school freshmen can have a difficult time getting started. But there are programs geared toward making sure those students who may have fallen through the cracks don’t.

Seattle Times education reporter Neal Morton visited two programs at West Seattle High School and Tacoma’s Washington High School to see how well they’re working. He spoke with KNKX Morning Edition producer Ariel Van Cleave.

Interview highlights

How the programs work: "They first start by focusing on all freshmen at West Seattle. They pair them all with usually a senior mentor to help them learn the ropes of the school, check in with them. But in West Seattle they also identify starting in eighth grade students who maybe have absenteeism problems, maybe saw their grades slip near the end of the eighth grade school year. And even before they get to campus, they help them out with a special orientation."

Students of color outpacing others at Washington High: "Washington High, back in 2006, they were labeled a drop-out factory. Their graduation rate was pretty embarrassing. That's how the principal described it, at 61 percent in 2009. That's now at 87 percent last year. And what's really, really striking at Washington High is the principal told me their graduation rates for students of color are outperforming their white peers, which is practically unheard of in American education."

West Seattle seeing positive results: "West Seattle gets a lot of city money to fund these efforts. They've shown that freshmen that are getting Cs, or better, in their classes are going up. Attendance problems are down and discipline problems are down. The issue at West Seattle High is those efforts seem to helping a particular type of student. But it's not helping those students of color or low-income kids who need that extra support. Closing those opportunity gaps, which are significant at West Seattle High, is part two of their effort."

Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.